Dear Margaret: Those two words are how each “letter” in this new series will begin, whenever I write here to my friend Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden.
2013 is a banner year for me. In just under 5 months I will turn 40. Hello, overnight occurrences of strangely oversized chin hair, indeterminate body aches, and an unhealthy addiction to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” Hello, mid-life crisis.
“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore.”
I recently watched the comedy “This is 40” and while I have no illusions that a Hollywood film will “get me” and portray a reality that I know, I walked away feeling somewhat fortunate (or was it superior?) in that while my 40th may be A LOT flabbier and is not heralded forward with a full-service catered tent party in an expensive and dully landscaped flush suburban backyard, a decade’s worth of therapy has prepared me so that it is (at least I think) a lot less CRAYZZEE.
Anyways, just last month, my Internet website, “celebrated” its 13th webiversary. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing here about gardening in some form for 13 years. Did you say recently that you’ve been writing about gardening for 25 years? I never expected to be doing this for such a long time, but then again, I didn’t start off with many expectations period, so its all a bit of a surprise. 13 years later and I have changed careers, written books I didn’t know were in me, and experienced a host of wonderful, frightening, and sometimes surreal things… all because I wanted to create a love letter to plants and meet likeminded people. Life is funny.
What’s harder to believe and somewhat ironic is that I’m stepping into gardening’s most popularly targeted age demographic the year that my website becomes a teenager. Oh, and it is a teenager all right. My website is full of angst. It’s a bit of a mess these days, busting with energy, but full of doubt and uncertainty; we both are. We fight sometimes and then it goes upstairs and slams its bedroom door and yells, “I hate you! I wish I’d never been born!” Other days we hang out, brush each other’s hair, tell stories, and enjoy each other’s company. What can I say? It’s a confusing time for both of us.
So I’ve been thinking about this a lot – this turning 40 the year that my website turns 13. I started the site when I was in my 20s and in many ways we have grown up together. Back then, full of youthful outrage and enthusiasm, I railed against the way that garden media seemed to be so focused on a singular demographic: white, 40+, and with a healthy disposable income. I think that a lot of my perception back then came from the way this focus informed who I thought I was supposed to be as a lover of plants (I would not become comfortable with the word gardener for many years), and who my friends — who could not relate to this interest, this obsession — thought it would lead me to become. Anytime I deigned to look at a garden magazine, what stared back at me was so fundamentally different from my own experiences that it read like a personal message, “You don’t belong here girly. Move along.”
As time passed and I met lots of people who shared a similar perspective, all of that lost its meaning and I focused on what inspired me and creating my own definition.
Later still, when my first book was published and I began traveling and meeting more people in person, I came to see with clarity that age has nothing to do with it. And while class matters, even it is somewhat irrelevant and does not have to inform how the gardener gardens, or how the gardener experiences the garden. The demographic is a hopeful prediction and a fiction of sorts. It is a flawed generalization and an attempt to identify and target a market that particular parties want to exist. It’s not who we are: these indefinable lovers of plants. These mad people who do not garden to improve the value of their properties or create Fabulous Curbside Appeal! Our gardens are not a weekend hobby, a flight of fancy, or a delightful diversion. They ask, “Well then, why do you put so much into gardening? What is the point?” And we don’t know (although we also do). It’s because we just have to.
My work as a garden writer has taken lots of twists and turns over the last 13 years, but the only real difference now is that I know a lot more, have dropped the youthful arrogance and realized that I still know almost nothing. I have also, with time and experience, come to set down real, definable expectations around this thing I’ve created that consumes so much of my days. As a gardener, things have changed but much is still fundamentally the same. I have not taken ill overnight with some kind of mysterious, age-acquired illness that has transformed me into a Hollywood caricature of a gardener and while I have developed an interest in certain plants that have raised some doubt about what I perceived to be an impeccable sense of taste, I do not see myself falling into the chasm of banality that early 90s magazines once had me believe was the inevitable fate of the 40+ crowd.
I am still gardening on a budget. I am still making the most of rented spaces with the looming threat of it all coming out from under me at any moment. Yet more than ever, I put everything into it and hold almost nothing back. I did not have that kind of courage 13 years ago (to be so vulnerable) and when I look at my fellow 40+ gardening friends, I see that this is a common thread that connects us. Wherever we garden and whatever our resources; plunging our hands into the soil and making something come up from it is a requirement for living. Our gardens build up our strengths and they reveal our vulnerabilities. We need to do it. We have to do it. And we will only stop when our bodies have given up breathing air.
Happy webiversary to you, too!
Margaret’s corresponding “Dear Gayla” letter for this week can be seen here and the archive of my letters to her are located here.
Thanks to Davin Risk for drawing the pretty banner for me last night at the eleventh hour and with a headache. I couldn’t have kept at this site for the last 13 years without his incredible help and support.
If you’d like to take a little stroll down memory lane, the Internet Archive has versions of this site dating back to May 2000. There were earlier versions, but I hand coded the site and completely changed the homepage design seasonally. By May of the first year I had transitioned from changing the design radically — I’m not sure if that’s why the previous versions don’t exist.
Since this is a celebration of my work here so far, I thought I’d giveaway a prize that reflects the last 13 years.
Grand Prize: One randomly chosen winner will receive one copy of each of my published books: You Grow Girl, Grow Great Grub, Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces, and Drinking the Summer Garden.
Other Prizes: Four randomly chosen winners will receive one ebook bundle of Drinking the Summer Garden.
Please note that the grand prize portion is open to residents of Canada and the continental US ONLY (I can’t imagine the shipping cost elsewhere). If you live elsewhere you can still enter to win the ebook bundle.
All you have to do to enter is tell us in 1-5 words what gardening means to you. And of course, you can always just type in “count me in,” and that will count as an entry, too.
Winners will be drawn randomly after entries close at midnight on Tuesday, March 12, and informed by email.
My thanks to you all for the last 13 years!